For 50 years now, we’ve been boldly going where no one has gone before, and we’ve also been learning what it truly means to be human. Many of these lessons have been taught not by humans but by aliens.
I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. Several years later, I caught all the reruns from the original series. I’ve seen at least most of the movies, a few of them in the theater. Though I’ve never been the kind of fan that memorizes every episode or could win a trivia competition, the answer for me to the age old question of Star Wars or Star Trek has always been Star Trek.
A couple months ago, I began rewatching The Next Generation on Netflix. This was inspired by some science fiction ghostwriting I’ve been working on. My television choices are often dictated by my writing projects, but it was also a great excuse to re-explore something I had loved so much as a child.
While I didn’t remember the specific plots of any of the episodes, I most certainly remembered the characters. I had a huge crush on the aptly named Wesley Crusher, but my other favorite character was always Data.
Now, while I’m very much over Wil Wheaton, I am still incredibly intrigued and impressed by Data. What makes him so interesting is that he is an android and yet he wants so badly to understand what it means to be human. He strives to discover—with the help of Joe Piscopo, no less—what makes something funny, and what it truly means to laugh. He constantly struggles with and overanalyzes common expressions that we humans use without thinking. Just as people must deal with bias and racism, Data also finds that not everyone is willing to accept him for who he is. It is through these various experiences that Data shows us what it means to be human through the eyes of an android.
There are other aliens ready to teach us these lessons as well. Deanna Troi shows us the emotional side of ourselves, while the Vulcans are experts in the logical. Klingons such as Worf help us understand our anger and our feelings about war. If you want to know a little more about human interactions when it comes to greed or business transactions, just ask the Ferengi.
Personally, I’m ready to keep learning from the aliens for another 50 years to come. Who is your favorite character and what did they teach you?